40 Stories for 40 Years – Profilee 36
For a number of years, Sophia had a dream to open a store offering Caribbean food products in Maine. “I wanted to start a business because I saw a need for specific products. The products were not available in the Lewiston/Auburn area, or anywhere in Maine,” she says. She and others would have to travel to Boston or New York to get the items that reminded them of their life in other countries. In 2016, she was in-between jobs. This is when she seized the opportunity to start her business.
Sophia knew that the first step towards her goal was to write a business plan. She had written a business plan in college and told herself, “I can do this.” Then, she realized that she needed help with developing financial statements, she found New Ventures Maine and registered for the upcoming Venturing Forth class.
She started the class with the goal of developing a solid business plan. “During the class, I gained business knowledge and a better idea of how to manage my business. When the class concluded my goal was to open a store within six months and to have a sustainable, solid, operating business within four years. Now, Caribbean Life Grocery and Gifts has been in operation for two years and I am well on the path to reaching my four-year goal,” she shares.
There have been challenges and joy along the way. At first it difficult for Sophia to find the right location and to meet the requirements of a commercial loan. However, she overcame these challenges and was able to open her first store! She explains, “One of my biggest joys during this process was the confidence I gained by knowing that I had the support of NVME, and the backing of other organizations, such as the Maine Small Business Development Centers and Community Concepts Finance Corp.”
Sophia’s advice to others is “before you start a business take the Venturing Forth class. In addition to providing education on business planning, it opened doors to make connections with other business resources.”
Sophia recently started another business with her husband in the Freeport Public Market, called Jeff’s Jamaican Cuisine. It is a small food kiosk that offers homestyle Caribbean dishes. Her goal is to open a larger restaurant in the future to continue sharing the Caribbean Life.